A key business adviser to the Federal Government who endorsed its “gas-fired recovery” plan has conceded that his controversial recent claim that 850,000 Australians work in industries using natural gas as feedstock was “incorrect”.
- Andrew Liveris is a former Dow Chemical CEO and ex-adviser to the Trump administration
- When he made the claim on the Q+A program, he was challenged by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull
- In an email to RMIT ABC Fact Check, Mr Liveris acknowledges the 850,000 figure is “incorrect”
Andrew Liveris has told RMIT ABC Fact Check that the 850,000 figure was the Australian Bureau of Statistics employment number for all sectors of manufacturing and not all those sectors used gas as a feedstock.
However, he said all manufacturing jobs were “dependent on the aggregation of supply chains and associated manufacturing ventures that draw on gas directly”.
The former chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company and adviser to the Trump administration clashed last month with the former prime minister, Malcom Turnbull, over the issue on the ABC’s Q+A program.
The jobs figure was also subsequently challenged in Federal Parliament.
Mr Liveris made his claim when Q+A host Hamish Macdonald asked him to justify the need for new, publicly funded gas infrastructure.
“There’s 850,000 Australians employed by industries that use gas as a feedstock,” he replied.
When contacted by Fact Check, Mr Liveris said in an email that he had not had the opportunity to properly explain himself “due to the style of the program”.
“Gas as a key input and enabler, including as a feedstock and source of direct energy, in energy intensive sectors like steel, aluminium, bricks, paper, food production and packaging, cement, petrochemicals, fertilizers, explosives and other sectors impacts 850,000 manufacturing jobs in Australia,” he wrote.
“The correct assertion is that 850,000 (the ABS number for workers in manufacturing) jobs are dependent on the aggregation of supply chains and associated manufacturing ventures that draw on gas directly, and not as electricity,” he wrote.
According to ABS data, there were 853,781 jobs in manufacturing in June 2019.
On Q+A, Mr Turnbull interjected to say: “Andrew, where are the 850,000 jobs that use gas as feedstock?”
Mr Liveris responded: “Fertilisers, plastics, chemicals, explosives.”
“I think you’ve exaggerated. I honestly think you’re way off the chart,” Mr Turnbull said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was also on the Q+A panel with Mr Liveris, raised the 850,000 jobs claim in a Senate Estimates hearing with a divisional head from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Russ Campbell.
Mr Campbell said the department had not produced such a figure.
“The only way you could possibly interpret that would be to think about indirect jobs, but looking at the direct quote here, using them directly as feedstock — I’m not aware of a figure that high,” he said.
Mr Liveris was a special adviser to the Federal Government’s National Covid Commission Advisory Board from April 2020 to September 2020.
‘Energy source and chemical feedstock’
The Energy and Climate Change Program Director at the Grattan Institute, Tony Wood, told Fact Check there are two primary uses for natural gas in Australia: as an energy source; and as a chemical feedstock, where it is used as an input in the production of industrial commodities like petro-chemicals, fertilisers and explosives.
Mr Wood said that as an energy source, gas can be used to generate electricity, or in the domestic setting, for cooking food, heating houses and hot water.
It is also used as an energy source in many manufacturing processes, most commonly for heating.
“The second broad area of the use of natural gas is as a chemical feedstock, where we are not so much interested in the energy content of the natural gas, we are interested in the chemical content of the natural gas,” he said.
In 2019, Chemistry Australia, the peak body representing the chemicals industry, commissioned a report by consultancy group ACIL Allen, which identified a specific set of sub-sectors that use gas as a chemical feedstock: gas manufacturing (including micro-LNG for domestic uses); other basic polymer manufacturing; fertiliser manufacturing; and explosives manufacturing.
The report found that in 2017-18 there were 9,232 direct jobs in the gas feedstock chemical sector.
It estimated that there were further indirect jobs in the sector of between 24,396 and 39,269.
Sonam Thomas is a researcher with RMIT ABC Fact Check